At Missouri cross country’s opening meet on Aug. 30, a group of Missouri runners crossed the finish line together in front of the pack.
There were the familiar faces of senior Melissa Menghini, sophomore Mikayla Reed and redshirt senior Jordyn Kleve, but there was one surprise finisher.
It was freshman Ginger Murnieks, who ran stride for stride with her more experienced teammates during the 4K race at the Missouri Cross Country Opener.
“(She) made it look like a walk in the park,” head coach Marc Burns said.
It was Murnieks first collegiate race, but she proved she belonged at the top of the Missouri lineup.
She said her split at the two-mile mark of the race was close to her state championship winning two-mile time of 10:57 from last May.
“I definitely surprised myself,” Murnieks said. “I just feel like I’m getting in really good shape so I’m excited for the rest of the season.”
Now Murnieks and Missouri will encounter their first real test of the season at the Commodore Classic on Saturday at Percy Warner Park in Nashville.
After coasting to a team sweep in its home opener that featured Missouri and in-state rivals SLU and Missouri State, Missouri is in a 16-team men’s race and a 20-team women’s race.
Saturday’s contest features Ole Miss and Indiana, two schools that had both its men’s and women’s teams qualify for last year’s national championship meet, and Southeastern Conference opponents Auburn, Mississippi State, Georgia, and Vanderbilt.
On the women’s side, Murnieks is in the thick of a top group of runners that include Missouri’s top 10 runners from last season.
That group will include Menghini, who will run with Missouri after being unattached in the Tigers’ last meet. Burns and Menghini were considering redshirting her senior season, but she’ll compete with the team for the rest of the year.
“We’re going to push all the chips in this year and see what happens,” Burns said. “She wanted to help the team and we feel like we’re a lot better when she’s in the lineup.”
Without a top group separating themselves, Burns said the Tigers will have a top five by committee early on in the season.
That committee will include Murnieks. Her success early this season might have been a surprise, but she came in as a heralded recruit after a dominant senior cross country season at Lee’s Summit West.
Despite nursing injuries from her junior year when she ran in Oregon, she won the Missouri Class 4 state championship in 2018, crossing the finish line 25 seconds before the second place finisher.
“I knew she was going to be great,” Burns said. “But she’s way ahead of schedule compared to where we thought she was going to be at this point.”
The hierarchy of the men’s team is more defined, with redshirt senior Thomas George and senior Kieran Wood leading the way.
Second-year runners Oaklee Hauschild, Martin Prodanov and Victor Mugeche are right behind them. Redshirt junior Dylan Quisenberry, redshirt senior Michael Widmann and sophomore Marquette Wilhite will try to earn spots at the top of the Missouri lineup as well.
Burns said the expectation for both teams is to finish in the top five. George and Wood will be looking for top individual honors at the meet as well.
The men’s race will be at 8:30 a.m. and the women’s race will be at 9:15 a.m.